Intelligent Design

From the Small Warm Pond to Kooties

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Evolutionary psychology, the idiot cousin of evolutionary theory, has dropped another bombshell of scintillating cutting edge science on us – when a kid calls the kid across the street a “poopyhead” he’s not being mean.  He is just following the dictates of his genes, because teasing is an evolutionary adaptation, don’t you know.

 

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, gives us this

 

Given the perils of negotiating rank, many species have evolved dramatized status contests, relying on symbolic displays of physical size and force to peacefully sort out who’s on top. Stags roar. Frogs croak. Chimps throw branches around. Hippos open their jaws as wide as possible to impress competitors.  And humans tease.  Teasing can be thought of as a status contest with a twist.  As humans evolved the ability to form complex alliances, the power of a single individual came increasingly to depend on the ability to build strong bonds.

 

For our Darwinist friends I have a question.  You are always talking about how evolutionary theory is science because its various hypotheses are subject to being falsified.  Please, oh please, tell me how, it is possible to falsify this just-so story.  Or are you as embarrassed for Keltner as the rest of us?

16 Replies to “From the Small Warm Pond to Kooties

  1. 1
    Berceuse says:

    I’m sure they have an answer for the role of compliments and praise, as well.

    A friend of mine once said he likes evolutionary psychology because it is “simple, logical, and massive amounts of data exist to support it.”

    (Sigh)….

  2. 2
    RoyK says:

    Barry, a couple of points.

    First, most of the best critiques of evolutionary psychology have come from within evolutionary theory. Gould and Lewontin come readily to mind.

    Second, contrary to your post, Keltner doesn’t presume to offer an example of “scintillating cutting edge science.” He’s just giving a newspaper version of a chapter from a book for a general audience. There’s nothing here to evaluate scientifically.

    In real science, there’s a big difference between research articles and popular books (or chapters of them).

  3. 3
    Barry Arrington says:

    RoyK, from your post at [3] I infer you are as emabarrssed for Keltner as the rest of us and are trying to cut losses on your side. Sorry. I ain’t working.

  4. 4
    O'Leary says:

    Evolutionary psychology is a discipline without a subject, so the best solution would be to put it out of its misery.

    If we had pre-humans among us, the discipline might have a subject, but now … ?

    Assuming any critique is needed, by far the best was by an Australian philosopher David Stove, Darwinian Fairytales.

    The main problem with evolutionary psychology is and always has been that it is not informative.

    We already know that teasing is socially destructive and that it is NOT mandated by one’s genes.

    I doubt very much that chimps tossing branches around are doing exactly the same thing as the kid who teases another about incontinence or out of wedlock birth or membership in a minority religious group.

    None of that harmful behaviour (and yes, it IS harmful*) has any analogue in the chimp world. It is all learned behaviour based on ideas relevant only to humans and communicated only in human languages.

    And that sort of behaviour can be UNlearned as well.

    Evolutionary psychology contributes no information whatever to the problem by offering insights into animal behaviour. I will suppose, for present purposes, that the insights are valid – but they are irrelevant.

    *Teasing is harmful for a number of reasons, but the worst harm is done to the character of the child who teases, in my view. He learns a vile attitude of self-complacency about very minor achievements and a tendency to unite with other very minor achievers against anyone who is different.

  5. 5
    RoyK says:

    Barry [5],

    Sorry. I ain’t working.

    No, you ain’t. 🙂
    The substance of my comment stands.

  6. 6
    tragicmishap says:

    “Evolutionary psychology is a discipline without a subject”

    Haha. Nice.

    I actually find Keltner’s poopyheadedness rather interesting. If you believe what he’s saying, then you must believe at least one of the following statements:

    1. Teasing is good.
    2. Evolutionary adaptation is bad.
    3. Good and bad do not exist.

  7. 7
    PhilipBaxter says:

    Hi,

    Stags roar. Frogs croak. Chimps throw branches around. Hippos open their jaws as wide as possible to impress competitors.

    Is there an intelligent design analogue of the science being criticized here that explains these behaviours? After all, I’m sure teasing has been around as long as people have and if not teasing then pick any other human activity (such as the varied mating rituals of, er, humans for starters).
    As it takes energy to perform such things I think we all would agree that generally accepted micro evolution would weed out such behaviours over time as wasteful.

    And humans tease.

    If the Intelligent Design explanation exists for such apparently wasteful behaviour I’d very much like to hear it. Humans do tease.

    Teasing is harmful for a number of reasons, but the worst harm is done to the character of the child who teases, in my view. He learns a vile attitude of self-complacency about very minor achievements and a tendency to unite with other very minor achievers against anyone who is different.

    The thing about that is that we’ve all teased I’m sure at some point, however good or bad naturedly it was meant at the time. Sure, some children (and adults) are cruel but alliances rise and fall fast when you are a small child and the “enemy” will be punished. And then swap sides and do it over!

    You are always talking about how evolutionary theory is science because its various hypotheses are subject to being falsified. Please, oh please, tell me how, it is possible to falsify this just-so story. Or are you as embarrassed for Keltner as the rest of us?

    On a different thread Joseph, a long time commenter here, is happily declaring that

    It went as designed with a few hiccups.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-299520
    basically putting his entire argument into the belief category. Falsify that!

  8. 8
    tragicmishap says:

    Uh Phil, humans do laugh after all. I want a quantum mechanical explanation. Right now. Com’ on I’m waiting.

  9. 9
    Clive Hayden says:

    Evolutionary psychologists will say that all behaviours, even complete opposites, are the result of an evolutionary history. They treat people like the police treat a suspect “Anything you say or do can and will be held against you.” It doesn’t matter what we do, love or hate, tease or be merry, they have a just so story for all behaviours. By such an explanation, by wanting to encompass everything, nothing would stand to falsify their claims, so they effectively say nothing in particluar. And where would we get our standards of proper behaviour from evolution? If evolution were the reason why we did anything, then what standard would we use to discern what is right or wrong? For the wrong behaviour would be given by evolution too. Now which standard should we choose given that evolution would be at once our guide and our deceiver? We could just as adequately call our behavious instincts and observe the following:

    “But why ought we to obey Instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it?—an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement about psychological fact ‘I have an impulse to do so and so’ we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle ‘I ought to obey this impulse’….

    Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.

    The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the ‘basic’, or ‘fundamental’, or ‘primal’, or ‘deepest’ instinct. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgement passed upon the instinct and therefore not derivable from it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion.”
    C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

  10. 10
    JT says:

    Baboon Troops function just like human societies – all the same sorts of political alliances, even the same sorts of psychological afflictions among individuals, not to mention shame, ostracizing, etc.

    Unrelated, by animals break the 10 commandments continuously. Bald Eagles steal continuously from each other.

  11. 11
    Clive Hayden says:

    That’s exactly my point, whether we obey or break the Ten Commandments, whether we’re monogamous or polygamous, whether we’re interested in justice or treachery, nothing will count against the evolutionary psychologist’s estimation, so nothing counts for it either.

  12. 12
    tribune7 says:

    Baboon Troops function just like human societies –

    Something to mull — a group of baboons is called a congress.

  13. 13
    Green says:

    Evolutionary psychology reminds me of Freudian psycho-analysis – it’s a discipline which can explain away anything and everything. Pseudoscience alarm bells should be going off…

  14. 14
    Tim says:

    Uh . . . I thought the point in question was falsifiability. Barry A picked out one of what must scores of articles that attach some type of meaning to our behaviors based on the behaviors of our “evolutionary kin” (my phrase). Then, he asked what for me at least was a rhetorical question. How in the world could such just-so story be possibly falsified.

    So for RoyK and others who would defend EP, how about this: how would such a hypothesis (even a cleaned-up version!) be falsified in principle.

    And . . . silence.

  15. 15
    sxussd13 says:

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar … 🙂

    My question is how far do you get with moral relativism, which is more or less Clive Hayden’s point in 9.

    From wikipedia (the experts on evolutionary sciences ;):

    Evolutionary biologists believe that morality is a natural phenomenon that evolved by natural selection acting at the individual level, and through group selection. Consequently they view morality as being relative, constituting any set of social behaviors that promoted the survival and successful reproduction of humans.

    Michael Shermer via Wikipedia

    Now when you go to Michael Shermer’s wikipedia page we see

    Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic,[1] which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims.

    Now my question is: Can’t they do something against evolutionary psychology?

    As we can see it is circular reasoning.

  16. 16
    Barb says:

    Regarding moral relativism: without an objective standard of meaning, then life is meaningless and there’s no absolute right or wrong. Everything is a matter of opinion. Moral relativism is ultimately unlivable.

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